Burger King is on a roll and not the sesame seed variety.
The fast-food chain is enjoying its fourth consecutive year of same-store sales growth. Driving that success—along with product a few healthy menu items and that quirky King mascot—is a whopper of a marketing program that for the past three years has put events and sponsorship marketing on the front burner.
During that time Burger King has evolved what had been a series of local field activations—a festival here a promotion there—into full-fledged experiences that engage SuperFans (those consumers who frequent fast-food hamburger restaurants at least nine times each month) build brand awareness and drive traffic into the stores. “Burger King had done local activations before but they were never repeatable ” says Cindy Syracuse BK’s senior director of cultural marketing. In addition a parade of ceos as many as seven in nine years and multiple marketing executives and ownership structures also made for a lack of consistent vision.
That changed five years ago when current cmo Russ Klein entered the picture and soon after launched BK B-Ball Battle a national competition focused on 18- to 34-year-old African-American male basketball enthusiasts. The following year Tu Ciudad Tu Musica (Your City Your Music) a Latin music program that connects with Hispanics rolled out. This past summer live events touched everyone from tween-aged Jonas Brothers fans and their moms to the hip late-night club crowd. In November a viral effort dubbed Wallet Drop reached anyone willing to stoop down and pick up a stray billfold that contained the King’s drivers license a $1 or $100 bill and a message from the King himself telling people to keep the wallet and everything in it. And this May with BK Fam Fest the company will host family reunions for African-American SuperFans in city parks in six markets.
With Klein at the helm the Burger King brand voice is speaking loud and clear to the SuperFan. “When Russ took over Burger King was a brand you knew you knew about but you weren’t really curious about ” Syracuse explains. “His vision was always not only to be about a brand that you knew; he wanted [it] to be one that you love to know more about.”
Despite daring antics like taking its signature Whopper off the menu (purposely aggravating core customers in the process) and attempting to entice teens with sliced apple “fries” that are healthy for you Klein’s desire to pique curiosity hasn’t killed the King. In fact it’s only made him stronger. Hungry to find out how the brand that says Have It Your Way can have its way with BK’s biggest fans and still keep customers coming back for more? Your tour of the Burger Kingdom starts now.
Before BK started executing experiential programs in earnest it started transforming the brand through irreverent campaigns and promotions. Klein introduced the creepy-cool King character implemented a strategy to target young adult male SuperFans with indulgent products like the Enormous Omelet and launched the edgy Subservient Chicken viral campaign which continues to generate powerful word of mouth for the brand. The Whopper Freakout—its riskiest move yet—captured the sheer outrage of real consumers on hidden camera when they were told their favorite Whopper had been taken off the menu.
Indeed one of the biggest drivers of the brand is a mix of provocative concepts and bold pop culture tie-ins that deftly take advantage of the moment in the moment. “We like to capitalize on [pop culture] and engage in it but create it as well ” Syracuse says. Examples: innovations like the Xbox games that sold for $3.99 with the purchase of a value meal at the restaurant and featured the King and his pals Whopper Jr. and the Subservient Chicken. During the two months the promotion ran Burger King sold more than 3.2 million copies of the games.
Another hit was Burger King’s appearance four years ago in the second season of “The Apprentice.” “Product was available the next day ” Syracuse says. “We FedExed ‘The Apprentice’ kits out to 7 300 restaurants so you saw ‘The Apprentice’ at 10 p.m. on Thursday night and the next day you could buy ‘The Apprentice’ burger.” The promotion won a few awards for the brand and also resulted in a sales uptick.
Wallet Drop is a recent example of Burger King’s newfound marketing agility. The stunt which last fall scattered the King’s billfold around hot spots in Chicago Orlando and Phoenix quickly showed the brand love generated by the program. Of the more than 14 000 wallets dropped 800 people called in and thanked the King. “We didn’t plan for it but because we had worked on the idea over the summer and did it at our franchisee convention we were able all of a sudden to flip the switch and turn it on ” Syracuse says.
Burger King ventured headlong into experiential four years ago with B-Ball Battle then with Tu Ciudad Tu Musica its first effort with new experiential marketing agency of record Legacy Marketing Partners Chicago. “They are always hungry for new ideas and want to take their message to consumers in unique and exciting ways ” says Legacy chairman Kevin Berg. “Their approach to marketing is well suited to events and sponsorships.”
Since then its strategy has evolved to engage female SuperFans and their families plus tweens and urban hipsters via events that are on-target and tuned in to what’s hot—whether that’s the Jonas Brothers rapping or creating customized t-shirts at burgerkingstudio.com.
B-Ball Battle which this year will hit 13 markets from February to May began by providing an experience that tapped into the passion of Burger King’s African-American SuperFans. The three-on-three basketball tournament averages 50 teams in each market competing for an all-expenses-paid trip to a national championship in Miami. Local winning teams receive $1 000; national champs score a cool $20 000. At the games an emcee calls the action and interacts with players; djs spin; and players get t-shirts drawstring bags hand towels and $5 Burger King Crown gift cards.
Tu Ciudad Tu Musica is a 10-market Latino battle of the bands now entering its third year that from March to June reaches hundreds of thousands of consumers at festivals such as BorderFest in McAllen Texas or Carnaval in San Francisco and crowns local aspiring musicians the best in their communities. On-site Burger King’s tent offers green-screen photo opportunities interactive games iPod listening stations and t-shirts. Brand ambassadors distribute $5 BK Crown Cards to drive store traffic. Local winning bands receive a $2 500 cash prize a BK-branded guitar and media exposure. The national winner will open two tour dates for a nationally recognized artist.
Burger King hit a high note this past summer when two sampling programs both touting its new Fresh Apple Fries spiraled into its largest sampling effort to date. In June brand ambassadors manning eye-catching green carts intercepted families on weekend outings at parks and beaches in Chicago Houston Los Angeles Miami and New York City with samples of the apples cut to resemble French fries and served skinless and cold in the same type of containers. They also gave away baseballs beach chairs umbrellas and Crown Cards. In Chicago and Houston a sand sculptor created giant apples in the sand for added p.r. value. Burger King distributed more than 100 000 samples of the “fries ” but its sponsorship of the 38-city Jonas Brothers Burning Up Tour raised the effort to a whole new level.
The company had enjoyed a 10-year association with Disney via promotions and movie tie-ins with properties such as “Toy Story ” “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas” but never a music tour sponsorship because of Disney’s strict on-site no-fast-food policy and potential conflicts with concession stands. But all that changed when concert producer Live Nation acquired most of the tour venues. “What we were most interested in was whether we could sample Fresh Apple Fries in these concerts ” Syracuse says. “We found a unique way to do it and capitalized on it. So Jonas Brothers became a great add-on to the first [parks and beaches] program.”
Burger King covered 41 show dates in 63 days traveling 21 320 miles in a 53-foot refrigerated truck and distributing more than 8 000 cases (161 000 samples) of Apple Fries which the Jonas Brothers themselves incorporated onto their tour menu. It also gave away tickets and offered exclusive meet-and-greets with the superstar rockers. “It ended up being a fantastic partnership for Fresh Apple Fries and what it stood for ” Syracuse says. “Women and families flew in from around the country they drove in for miles then went back home where there is a Burger King in their town.”
The tour achieved 730 694 on-site fan impressions via sampling digital photos and the postcards and 857 075 on-the-road truck impressions for a total of 1.6 million. It was enough to sustain a consistent Apple Fries sales bump throughout the entire tour.
Both sampling programs transformed TV radio print and online messages into something tangible for consumers. “We took one level of awareness and gave consumers a chance to experience it touch feel taste smell it and really understand the product ” says Mike Fletcher senior manager-global youth and family marketing at Burger King. “When you say Apple Fries people may wonder whether it is fresh apples is it fried? Experiential marketing gives you the opportunity to get it in their hands and since Apple Fries is a cold product it was far easier for us to sample and serve than a hot product such as a Whopper.”
With its Hispanic and tween markets covered Burger King last summer hit the club and music festival scene to build awareness for its late-night hours. As part of a three-phase rollout the fast feeder hit clubs near Burger King locations with branded cups napkins and ambassadors who touted its 2 a.m. (or later!) hours and distributed maps and Crown cards. “It was more about creating an awareness that we are in this space ” Syracuse says. “We are a brand that is seen as hip and cool edgy and irreverent so it is not a disconnect to be in a bar. That is a place where the king would be hangin’.”
Next came music venues such as the hip-hop Rock the Bells festival and Lollapalooza that draw SuperFans in July and August. The third phase was a combination of late-night promos in bars and music festivals in September. At a pre-party in each market Burger King distributed festival tickets and Crown Cards in sleeves that bore the BK logo that had been redesigned with a late-night neon glow. T-shirts proclaimed “Open late or really early—depending on your perspective.”
Burger King saw a 53 percent redemption rate for the Crown Cards which is “really high ” crows Syracuse and of that 10 percent were redeemed during late-night hours. The late-night program showed that local activation is needed in markets with stores that are open 24/7.
Have It Your Way
A digital component amplifies and personalizes each of BK’s programs. For Tu Ciudad Tu Musica a burgerkingmusica.com microsite and MySpace page connects it all back to the restaurant and any consumer who may not get to go to the festival. This year fans will vote online to determine who gets to perform. A biggest fan contest offers the fan who votes most online the chance to see the winning band perform. “Adding a [web] component keeps the program growing and will make it more impactful giving it wider reach while still staying local ” says Brian Ferber account director at Legacy Marketing Partners.
For the B-Ball Battle effort a website bk3on3.com offers online registration (BK gets valuable consumer data). MySpace and Facebook pages also promote the games.
Putting the program in consumers’ hands ties back to Burger King’s Have It Your Way tagline a message that resonates with young consumers. The Jonas Brothers sponsorship offered a Have It Your Way experience in which fans went behind the scenes with the group printed out personalized photos and accessed exclusive content at bkjonasbrothers.com. The on-site green-screen activation resulted in an average of 513 interactions per show and more than 135 000 post-show website visits to retrieve photos. Fans also could create personalized postcards (on average 363 per show); afterwards one winning postcard was posted to bkjonasbrothers.com.
At Rock the Bells fests in Chicago L.A. and New York consumers rapped about BK and late nights in an on-site recording booth. “It was a way to get consumers involved in the brand without forcing them into it and it brings that voice to life ” says Ferber. Burger King then emailed their song to them which they could then forward to friends. Most importantly it captured data on the amateur rappers. Burger King on-site distributed more than 3 000 Crown Cards interacted with more than 2 400 people and recorded just fewer than 300 songs.
The company’s latest venture Burger King Studio (handled by Mess Marketing Chicago) functioned for three months last fall in Chicago as a laboratory and art space where artists and hipsters interpreted the brand. At the first event five artists contributed artwork pieces that served as studio installations and then were repurposed into design elements used at a silk-screening bar. The Have It Your Way t-shirts were printed on-site and also sold online. A Head to Sole event for 800 attendees featured six artists creating mural pieces with Burger King crowns and working on hand-painted sneakers. Another event Deck of Kings transformed the gallery into a skate park as artists designed skateboard decks and poster art. A burgerkingstudio.com site and blog brought the experiences online.
“It was completely experience-driven versus brand-building with no objective to drive traffic and sales ” Syracuse says. “You just spent time with the brand and interpreted it for yourself.”
The site generated hits from every country in the world. “People were engaged and talking about it ” Syracuse says. “It’s an intersection of the artist with the consumer that we think is really interesting and one of the better embodiments of Have It Your Way.”
And lest anyone think the King has lost his cutting wit last month the brand launched another online experiment dubbed the Whopper Sacrifice. Anyone who deleted 10 friends from their Facebook account won a free burger. Ouch.
The Royal Treatment
In May and June Have it Your Way will come to life again as part of a new program targeting Burger King’s female African-American SuperFan base via BK Fam Fest family-reunion style events for 1 000 attendees in public parks in six cities.
“The idea of the family reunion is special in African-American culture ” says Alex Galindez BK’s director-multicultural marketing. “The definition of family within every culture is self-defined. One common trait among SuperFans is that their definition of family could be their fraternity their immediate blood relatives or their church. They get to have it their way they bring what they define as their family and we will facilitate the family bonding experience.”
At the six-hour events families will participate in Apple Fry relays Build-a-Whopper contests the King’s Obstacle Course a Royal Dance competition and other challenges. Winning families will be awarded $250 for each challenge they win and those accumulating the most points will compete for $5 000. In between challenges families can get their picture taken with The King create customized family t-shirts play card games and karaoke and do arts and crafts. Music and entertainment will round out the experience.
The targeted events are designed to resonate with Burger King’s multicultural SuperFans. “We try to get to the core of what moves our audiences ” says Galindez. “We know there are certain things that do it—music for Hispanics that is representative of their country of origin; family with African-Americans also will strike an emotional chord. Having that insight when you are in concept development is very important.”
Perhaps most important is how Burger King’s multicultural events—and indeed all of its programs—align with the brand’s DNA. “There is something Burger King about these events and that’s because our primary objective is to bring Have It Your Way to life ” she continues. “At the core is Have It Your Way. Every event we have has at least one component that empowers and puts the brand in the consumers hand.”
And hopefully a Whopper or pack of Apple Fries too.